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Veteran's family blames delayed care at Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center for death

Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013 4:34 PM
Last updated Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013 1:31 AM
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For almost three years, Alvin Wilson Jr. complained about sharp stomach pains to his doctor at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center. Tests had shown elevated liver enzymes and abnormally high and low glucose levels.

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Dana Hartmann (background) and her daughter Kelly Alsuhaim have been battling with the VA. Hartmann's father Alvin R. Wilson, died in March, six days after the VA diagnosed the Army veteran who fought in three wars with pancreatic cancer. Before her father's death Wilson had been denied an endoscopy for three years.  JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
Dana Hartmann (background) and her daughter Kelly Alsuhaim have been battling with the VA. Hartmann's father Alvin R. Wilson, died in March, six days after the VA diagnosed the Army veteran who fought in three wars with pancreatic cancer. Before her father's death Wilson had been denied an endoscopy for three years.

Finally, on Feb. 29, the downtown branch of the Au­gus­ta hospital performed an endoscopy and diagnosed the disabled veteran with pancreatic cancer.

Six days later, the 83-year-old Army paratrooper – who received an honorable discharge in 1962 for his service in World War II, Korea and Viet­nam – died from complications related to his disease.

“I knew my father was dy­ing just by looking at him,” said Dana Hartmann, of Martinez. “Not one X-ray was done, or one MRI taken. The VA just let him go.”

Wilson’s family links his death to the center’s embattled gastrointestinal program.

Hospital administrators admitted this week that it botched the clinic so badly that consultations were delayed unnecessarily for 5,100 veterans between 2011 and November 2012.

The medical center’s executive office has put the death toll at three cancer patients, but Wilson’s family and one former employee said the issue dates back eight years and might include more deaths, possibly connected to the administration of former Director Rebecca Wiley.

According to a 2012 report from the VA Inspector Gen­er­al’s Office, Wiley, whose tenure in Augusta lasted from 2007 to 2010, is responsible for nearly 90 percent of the medical center’s unresolved consults, along with the hospital’s loss of full accreditation three years ago.

The ongoing investigation found that mismanagement during some of Wiley’s time in Columbia, which began in Novem­ber 2011, contributed to a backlog of nearly 4,000 gastrointestinal appointment delays, which in turn led to 19 instances of serious injury and six patient deaths.

Hospital spokesman Pete Sco­vill said Friday that Nor­wood officials have provided information on how to file a lawsuit to seven families in an effort to take responsibility for four serious injuries and three deaths.

Citing patient confidentiality, Scovill would not say whether Wilson’s death is one of the three, but he said the hospital has reached out to the family and is working with them the best it can, possibly to help it collect damages.
Hartmann said she has kept all her father’s medical records and her family is speaking with an attorney.

They said they’ve been told they have a strong case.

“I want them to pay or at least personally apologize for the pain they caused my families and others,” said Kelly Alsuhaim, Wilson’s granddaughter.

Hartmann believes her father could have been saved – or at least been in a lot less pain before his death – had the VA listened.

Starting in 2010, her father, a non-diabetic, reported elevated liver enzymes and glucose levels that were not high enough for his pancreas to make insulin. Hartmann said her father’s doctor scheduled many appointments at Charlie Norwood for exploratory testing, such as an endoscopy.

Each time the sessions were pushed back and Wil­son was sent home, his pain written off as a product of old age, ulcers, minor gastric problems, lung infection. At one point, the hospital told him it was “all in his head,” a byproduct of depression after the death of his wife.

“They told him to modify his diet, but what really was happening is his bile ducts were being blocked and his pancreas was shutting down,” Hartmann said.

Catherine McAdams, a 28-year operating room nurse at Charlie Norwood who left the hospital’s infection control unit in October 2008, said that under Wiley, it was not uncommon for administrators to turn a blind eye to gastrointestinal patients.

She believes there might be more deaths related to colonoscopies and incompetent care.

In June 2005, McAdams went full time as a staff nurse at the medical center’s spinal cord injury unit. During her first week, while shadowing a wound care specialist, she tended to a veteran who had a procedureto reroute his bowels for better bladder control. McAdams and the specialist discovered that two-thirds of the patient’s colon had died, and his vital signs were fading.

“They didn’t do anything,” McAdams said. The veteran spent three weeks in intensive care and eventually died. “They let him sit for seven days on the spinal cord injury unit, writhing in pain.”
She said she knows of at least four deaths linked to surgeons using leaky feeding tubes or improperly sterilized endoscopes to operate on Army veterans from the Korean and Vietnam wars, some of whom ranked as high as captain.

McAdams said she reported the incidents in 2008 to the VA. She said she wished she had done so sooner.

“You don’t understand the culture of the VA under Wiley,” she said. “It was intimidating and retaliatory.”

McAdams said she plans to contact the House Commit­tee on Veterans Affairs to help with Congress’ investigation into gastrointestinal mismanagement in Augusta and Columbia.

In September, the committee requested copies of all current accounts of appointment backlogs and patient injuries. It also asked for any records reflecting performance reviews, pay bonuses and disciplinary actions issued since 2002 to those who oversee patient safety in Augusta.

Charlie Norwood officials said they have complied with the request and have added resources and made personnel changes to the hospital’s gastrointestinal program to reduce the backlog to 540 unresolved screenings.

Scovill said the hospital takes all complaints seriously and invites all veterans to call its patient advocate director, Donna Ingram, at (706) 733-0188 if they feel they are owed compensation or in need of further assistance.

“They’re better off working within our system and giving us a second try to make it right,” Scovill said. “After that, they can file an appeal and take it to court.”

Hartmann said the VA is out of chances, as far as she is concerned.

“I have been trying to get somebody to listen to me for three years,” she said. “But nobody would.”

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ymnbde 11/24/13 - 12:43 pm
when the government runs all of healthcare

to whom does one complain?
patient, pancreas, uterus, age, billing code, subsidy amount, symptom 1, symptom 2
doctor this, doctor that, referral, referral permission...
it's now all just part of one complex clerical matrix
as my Chinese friend said, "sure, our health care system is great, as long as you don't get sick."

Darby 11/24/13 - 12:49 pm
And yet we have billions available to subsidize

Air Jordans, ObamaPhones, EBT for hundreds of thousands of people who demonstrate a lack of need for them, etc. And that doesn't even scratch the surface.

Too bad old veterans don't demonstrate a group potential to vote Democrat.

daphne3520 11/24/13 - 01:23 pm
Rebecca Wiley NEEDS locked up, forever!!! NO TEXT

No text! (why'd ya look anyway?)

IBeDogGone 11/24/13 - 04:21 pm

This is one sad situation. Nothing can bring back the patients that died for lack of proper medical care, but I do think anyone who denied care should be charged as a criminal. If the families of these lost veterans had neglected them at home they would be charged. These patients from what I understand made numerous trips to the VA for treatment and nothing was done for them. More employees Like McAdams are needed who are not willing to stand up for the oath they took as a Health Care Professional.

CoastalDawg 11/24/13 - 06:57 pm
Easy diagnosis

As I read the mentioned symptoms I diagnosed pancreatic problems as I sat here; for the VA NOT to have recognized that is almost criminal because some simple testing would have revealed that there was some kind of pancreatic problem. The family's belief that he could have been saved is probably not correct; pancreatic cancer to this point is a fatal disease but surely he could have had some pain free time. The VA should have the ultimate best care available alongside the military hospitals. Unfortunately this is a sign of things to come as Obamacare kicks in and kicks OUT patients deemed too old for certain treatments. Right now, it's insurance that is taking the hit but you can rest assured that the man at the top has the whole scope of disabling the country one thing at the time. The persons who get top administrative jobs are often completely inexperienced in having ever done those jobs before and even when the in competence is discovered, they continue unabated and rarely if ever are they removed.

kellyhovey6 11/24/13 - 09:43 pm
you don't know what your talking about

I am kelly Alsuhaim and I can personally tell you that you do not know why we say that he could have been saved. He was having problems for 3 years and kept complaining and nothing was ever done. My mother is very educated. My grandfather suffered and I watched him get worse and worse withing a few days. I still cry thinking about how he suffered.

na1415 11/24/13 - 10:57 pm
abolish the VA medical system

Some of the worst care is handed out by the VA medical system.
Close them all and send patients to public hospitals. Care would be better and costs would be less.

Darby 11/25/13 - 05:14 pm
na1415 - The veterans hospitals were established

to carry out Lincoln's pledge.... "to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan".

You would throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. The solution is not to abandon the effort simply because of ineptitude. The answer is to clean house, fire the failures who run the system and provide the care promised in Lincoln's second inaugural speech.

You're suggesting that we just pass on the problem to someone else. Someone who by all accounts is not doing the job assigned already.

Where do you get the idea that "Care would be better and costs would be less."? That's not borne out by the facts. Not by a long shot. The fact alone that public hospitals across the country would have to be staffed and trained to treat PTSD would see costs in just that one area to skyrocket.

Sorry, but you are dead wrong!

Darby 11/28/13 - 12:49 pm
This just in...

The White House has issued a last minute reprieve for American Families...

OzBama the Great and Powerful has announced that...



kellyhovey6 11/29/13 - 04:36 pm
this man is a liar he still has never contacted us

Scovill would not say whether Wilson’s death is one of the three, but he said the hospital has reached out to the family and is working with them the best it can, possibly to help it collect damages

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